Not that I’m creating a new linguistic exercise like “we surly shell see the sunshine soon” or “she sells sea shelves by the sea shore” but I was just wondering whether to rename Miyabi tabibito bento as a travel food box to a food box in our Covid days Kobidobito bento. In Japanese, people pronounce Covid as kobido – all in syllabus. “Bito” in that word means a man, a man who needs to have food nicely combined in one box, with well-balanced components, very tempting in taste and outlook and also able to last for several hours pretty fresh and tasty. So that the bento could be eaten away from home. The last word “bento” represents both the box and its content. Tabibito ka kobidobito bento? Tabibito ka kobidobito bento? Have you tried?
Obentos speak about people’s lifestyle and thinking
I like the name “kobidobito bento” because bento has historically captured the context and followed the lifestyle and philosophy of the time. And our Covid time is also extraordinary time. It asks for new solutions and new ideas. When people traveled in very ancient times, which was mainly due to the necessity of business, it was necessary to take into account that they could not simply buy food on the way or go to a restaurant. Things changed when people started traveling because they just wanted to enjoy being in a place other than home. For pleasure. Then the need for food in a box arose, and obentos as we know them, found a firm place in the lives of the people of Japan. When the first railway station was built in Japan and passengers boarded trains with anticipation, it was, of course, handy to take food in a box with them. Such food was immediately given a name – ekibento. Railwaystation bento. Even now, before you board the shinkansen, you surely will check one by one the lavish shops with obentos lined up at the station lobby and choose. I do. The journey with shinkansen is then all the more beautiful. Or – imagine that we in Czech would have a name for a dish in a box that would be eaten at your seats in theater in between acts. Unimaginable. And you see, they have had name for such obento in Japan for several centuries. It’s makunouchi bento. “Maku” is a curtain or time between the acts of a play, and the “uchi” represents for me the time you eat happily and recover from the dramatic story of the play. The packaging of the box may include a scene from the play, a program or both, and inside are goodies according to the splendor of the performance and the theater itself. Different region different morals and especially different ways of living. In Japanese history, I was fascinated by another obento – hinomaru bento. Obento like a round shape of Sun shining over Japan, and for Japan. The bento was the government’s recommendation during World War II to harden the minds of all the people to endure the hardships and help Japan win the war. Hinomaru bento is a white rice in a box and in the middle a plum umeboshi. Plum has a slightly red color and the whole image resembles the Japanese flag. Obento filled the stomach, the plum guaranteed that the rice lasted longer fresh, more over through the food everybody remembered and celebrated the emblem of the Japanese nation. Hinomaru bento equally treated the Japanese and helped them to reconcile with the lack of food nationwide. This obento was perfect in a way. Actually, it was beautiful too. And the beauty of feeling is more important than we may think.
Obentos talk about care and love
In obento, it’s always about beauty. I experienced it the most when I prepared obento boxes for my children. Every day they carried food to the kindergarten. Moms raced to see how beautifully they managed to put their lunchtime love greetings into their food. And the children realized how much their mothers cared for them and how much they loved them. Before the school year began, I sewed creative obento wrapper, chopsticks wrapper, an eating pad, a napkin bag, and a bag for it all together for my child. According to the age of my child. Of course, I could also buy a complete set, but it would not be considered enough intimate and original. And then every day I struggled what to cook to make my obentos nutritious, vitamin-rich, tasty, and speaking to my children about my love. My obento, for example, was a cute cat’s head, or a panda bear, just something my child might like and what would interest him or her. Children often bragged about how beautiful obento they had. Friends even chased each other through their obento originality. Some mothers were masters and took for thirty forty minutes to complete their obento art – little sausage as a nose, edamame like eyes, hijiki like black curly hair… Thanks to obentos, we mothers were everyday artists. And I have to say that I enjoyed this game. I could overcome even the fact that sometimes it was too much, close to overboard.
Obentos can help against the fear of illnessand other anxieties
I believe that right now, when we are so worried about what will happen tomorrow and whether we will not infect someone or not get sick ourselves, we could preoccupy ourselves a bit with creating obento boxes. How about that? It may help. Obento is a beautiful challenge to bring your feelings of love into food and communicate through it. In addition, the obento is certainly more hygienically manageable than the school canteen or so can be. The base of obento is usually rice, very tasty prepared and there are at least five to ten different small dishes. These are foods that are good to eat at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about having food to warm up. Variety of components ensure that diners will benefit as to their health.
If you don’t have time to prepare obento at home, you can drop by and buy obento at Miyabi. We have just expanded the obento offer for you. I’m even going to tell the chefs that we will be preparing a children’s obento too. They may not look enthusiastic, especially now that they have a lower salary, but they are all very nice people, and if I make a proposal for a kyaraben type obento, I might amuse them. In Japan, kyara bento are associated with manga cartoons and their heroes. Of course, the new assignment also brings with it innovations in culinary art. The idea caught me and I already have several pictures of children’s obentos with a story. I even have a name. Ren ren Kon kon. It means renkon and renkon, the lotus root, will be dominant in my obento.
And please check also out kyaraben Valentine’s bento. We have two – Sushi ikebana and Yakizakana ikebana. Of course, everything with the necessary greetings of little hearts. Happy Valentine!
Kyaraben comes from pop culture arising from the desire to express something important. And right now we are living in a time that changes everything. New things emerge and when they catch peoples’ eyes, hooray! Tabibito ka kobidobito bento? I am asking again and by now you may already know the answer. Both! We will not stop traveling right?, and if we will not be able to buy food on the road, we will have to take it with us in a box. Tabibito bento has a great potential! Let’s not give up traveling! In a contrast, the kobidobito bento captures our new current social situation and is handy, because we can equip our children and loved ones with obentos so that they can take them to school or work. It will be a hygienically guarded, healthy food and moreover we will pass on a bit of love. Like those moms and kids from Japanese kindergartens.
In Japan, I like that there is still freedom in considering and even celebrating whether someone is a babygirl or a babyboy, a girl or a young man, a woman or a man, an old woman or an old man. Nothing is rejected, nothing is taboo. And it can also be nicely expressed through obentos. I can’t imagine that someone in the Czech Republic would like to have a different obento shape for women and other for men, and that it would be effective business for Miyabi, but the idea is on the table and we can try it. Hopefully there would be no gender complaint and the state would not close even the Take away window of Miyabi. In obentos, there is simply a great opportunity to express oneself – through the contents of the box and the box itself. Different food is preferred by different people – children have their preferences, adults their own and old people have still different needs. Children may be nicely addressed by a cute animal image and teenagers may be captivated by an image of what he or she is up to. Maybe from a movie. Some adults love rustic things, some minimalist things and others flashy decorative things and so everybody chooses obento accordingly. The world is beautiful when we are all a little different. Variety is great! And a bit of extravagance doesn’t matter either. In Japan, there are also obento boxes inlaid with gold, silver and ivory, obentos made of rare woods and obentos decorated with art paintings. There are also two-three-layer obentos, such as juubako obento for special occasions. There are also obentos for large gatherings – shidashi bento. People take obento under blooming sakura or watching the snow. Depending on where you go with your obento, the obento may be given a neat name. For example, “torimi bento”, a bento for watching birds. It is said to be popular in Prague now. Special kind of design obento are selected for Tea ceremonies like shoukadou bento, and there are even masters who have preferred unusual shapes of obento according to their personal taste. The father of the Tea ceremony Sen no Rikyu loved the moon-shaped obento – so we have Rikyugonomi bento. Mere boxes with food and so many activities! So much creativity!
Obento almost as an academic discipline
The culture of obento in Japan has developed almost into a field of study. Just how many kinds there are. How many regional specialties. For example, Nagano became famous for its Kamameshi bento in ceramic disposable container. Or how many seasonal specialties there are like Osechi bento that you had the opportunity to taste at the beginning of the new year in Miyabi.
At different times, different obentos were typical depicting the needs of the population. Obentos determined and are determining the social status of a person and his or her artistic and aesthetic focus. As it is said that “clothes make a person”, so the Japanese can say that “obento makes a person”. Have you noticed that sometimes you prefer to choose black clothes and other times you dress in bright colors wondering whether it is you? It’s the same with obento. Sometimes my obento told me what mood I was in and therefore what I actually communicated to people around. The question of whether the obento “yes or no”, “wants or does not want” even told me what was the work context and life preferences of my Japanese husband. In Japan, housewives prepare obentos not only for their children in kindergarten and often in school (although public schools have uniformed one meal served at school), but also for their husbands to take it to their workplace. In the middle of the skyscrapers in Tokyo, at noon in the sun in all possible places to sit, you can see salarymen in white shirts and ties unpacking their small boxes of food. From fabric handkerchiefs. Maybe there is sometimes someone, to whom his wife in anger wraps something bad. Even such obento has a name – shikaeshi bento, a revenge bento. She may put in something laxative or something very salty. Obento can be a message! Obento may talk! My husband usually didn’t want bento, not that he was afraid I’d poison him, but my loving obento somehow limited him. He preferred to have free space to go to a restaurant with his co-workers at noon to discuss work issues. Professions was what mattered for him most! You know, it is so that everyone is a little alone with obento. At least for a while. Not abandoned, but beautifully alone. It’s a connection to home. It represents something dear and familiar. And I longed for that brief connection with my loved one when he was far away at his job place.
Obento as a nice bond to home
Through obento, I also found out, for example, what my then twelve-year-old son was experiencing when he started attending a Czech junior school. He asked for obento in the morning, and I knew that not only did he not like Czech lunches in the school cafeteria, but that he also did not want to be with his classmates all the time. He wanted to be alone with his world for a while. I was glad that, through the obento, I was able to help my children, who were living between two cultures – Czech and Japanese, in fact even three when we lived in Turkey or America. In homemade obento they could have little security, connection and continuity with what they were attached to. I think obentos has helped us to overcome many difficulties. In addition, I had good control through my home bentos over what my children ate and even how much they ate that particular day, because when they didn’t finish, I found the rest in the box. Obento was also my marvelous bond with Japan when I returned to the Czech Republic with my children and became a full-time student at Charles University. I took my obento to Charles Bridge and ate it there, and I didn’t mind at all that people were looking at me curiously. I experienced supremely beautiful moments of my personal richness. I brought a great gift from a foreign culture to my home – my obentos represented it. Every morning I prepared boxes for myself and my four children from five o’clock. My children were born three or four years apart, so each obento had to be a little different. When the children got up, the apartment smelled of soy sauce and freshly cooked rice. I always wanted my sons and daughter not to be half, as they say in Japan about children born in international marriages, but double. I wanted both cultures to be part of them. And you see, my family used boxes of food called obento for that purpose. Successfully. Bento. Obento. Yes, this ordinary food box rightly takes the respectful prefix “o”. Dear bento box, I owe you a lot and thank you!
I can certify that obentos have the power to convey and spread the message of the beauty of life, of its meaning, of the fulfillment of life. And much more. So may the grace through obento be present with all of you! Arigatou!
Yours, Miyabi Darja
Extra question: How many different obento names have you counted in my article? Extra suggestion: Can you think about a new obento and propose a new obento name?